5@5 - Know your fish
January 13th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

It's a fishy tale told all too frequently: A restaurant lists a premium fish on the menu; the customer is served a lower-quality catch; the customer pays top dollar for the type of fish they thought they were ordering; and the restaurant eventually gets netted in scandal.

Jeremy Sewall, co-owner and executive chef of Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, Massachusetts, wants to make sure you don't get engulfed in a case of mistaken fillet identity ever again.

Five Tips for Buying Fish: Jeremy Sewall

1. What’s in a name?
"Fish naming is a tricky topic and unfortunately can cause a lot of confusion. There are lots of 'marketing' names for different fish - meaning what they are commonly called on menus and in stores. For instance, 'sea bass' can cover a variety of fish, and not all are bass.

Chilean sea bass is actually Patagonian toothfish; Giant sea bass is usually grouper; white sea bass is a type of drum. Striped bass and black sea bass are true bass, but if you are in Maryland, striped bass might be called rockfish. Ask the question of where it is from before you buy it. Geography can help tell you what type of fish it is."

2. Wild vs. Farmed, not always that different
"When buying seafood, often it is labeled as either 'wild' or 'farm-raised.' With fish, this distinction is important because farm-raised fish are fed pellets containing nutrients that can impact the flavor of the fish when it’s cooked.

However, with shellfish, wild or farm-raised are essentially identical. Regardless of if they are wild or farmed, shellfish like mussels, clams and oysters feed off of the naturally-occurring nutrients in their surroundings and thus their flavor characteristics are usually not impacted."

3. Avoid pre-spiced or marinated seafood
"Some markets will sell pre-marinated or spiced fish. This seems like a good idea because it saves shoppers the time of doing their own marinating or spicing, but the truth is that those marinades and spices might be masking a lesser quality fish or a fish that is being marketed as something that it might not be.

Buy simple, fresh fish fillets and do the spicing yourself at home."

4. You get what you pay for
"If it seems like a deal, then the fish is probably not what you think it is. Expensive fish usually doesn't find its way in to inexpensive dishes. There is nothing wrong with using less expensive fresh fish in things like fish tacos or fried fish dishes, but premium species like cod usually don't end up in fish and chips."

5. Whole fish is best
"Buying whole fish is the only real way to know for sure what fish you are getting. Whole fish at restaurants are a great delicious option, but clearly not everyone can gut and scale a fish at home.

Instead, ask your fishmonger if you can see the whole fish before they prep it for you. Build a good relationship with your fish market and you can feel more comfortable asking questions about where the fish is from and when it might have been caught."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Environment • News • Ocean • Sustainability • Think


soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Dover

    "premium species like cod usually don't end up in fish and chips."
    Where is fish and chips best known to hail from?: England
    Over the years what is by far to most popular fish used in English chip shops?: Cod

    Also:"white sea bass is a type of drum fish"
    They are known as drum, not drum fish. That would be like saying 'cow mammals' and 'chicken birds'. They are drum, which is singular and plural.

    How can you take the author of this article seriously?

    January 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  2. Barbra & Jack Donachy

    Well, until we get standard nomenclature for fish, it will continue to be very difficult to address overfishing. Most consumers have no way of knowing exactly what they're buying. In fact, once a fish is filleted, even knowledgable consumers can be fooled. Why is it that a Rolex must be a Rolex to be marketed as a Rolex, when, by contrast, people in the fishing industry–including cooks, mongers, fishermen, guides and others–can apply the terms "bass" or "snapper" or "trout" at will to anything they want to call a "bass" or "snapper" or "trout?" Articles like this one miss this crucial point, and aren't worth much.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:44 am | Reply
  3. David

    Pretty unethical article- totally skates over the whole question of sustainability. Many of the world's fish stocks are being harvested in an unsustainable manner (overfishing or using methods like trawling that destroy marine ecosystems). The author mentions a number of species (like Chilean Sea Bass) that should not be eaten unless things improve. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great resource related to this at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx?c=ln

    January 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • czerendipity

      I think you missed the point.

      January 16, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
      • David

        Nah... I get the point.

        I just think the article's ignoring a dimension that can't and shouldn't be ignored in any treatment of this topic.

        January 16, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  4. hisako

    Agree. I prefer seeing and buying the whole fish to fillets.

    January 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • Nearsighted

      I prefer chamfers over filets.

      January 16, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
      • Thomas

        *rimshot*

        January 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  5. Fish Foto

    Striped Bass and black bass are not even closely related, only the striped bass is considered a "true bass" in this part of the world. What is sold as "branzino" in the US is also a "true bass", it is the striped bass' cousin from the eastern atlantic and Mediterranean areas.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  6. Fish Foto

    Striped Bass and black bass are not even closely related, only the striped bass is considered a "true bass" in this part of the world. What is sold as "bronzino" in the US is also a "true bass", it is the striped bass' cousin from the eastern atlantic and Mediterranean areas.

    January 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  7. Catfish Charlie

    Where is NEMO.....I'm Hungry !!

    January 14, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  8. notsopc

    Get great fish at almost any grocery store: ask for whole frozen fish or frozen sides of fish lke mahi mahi. They are flash frozen on factory ships and not defrosted before sale. The thawed fish and fillets in the seafood case are limp, smelly and gross!

    January 14, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
  9. Beefburger

    "...premium species like cod usually don't end up in fish and chips."

    It depends on where you are, I worked at a Vegas beer pub where we only used 100% Icelandic cod. All you could eat Friday Fish Fry with "chips" for about $10.

    When in doubt, try asking.

    January 14, 2012 at 7:43 am | Reply
  10. lou

    if the fish smells like your girl friend, back off

    January 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  11. NICE RECEPIES

    salmon and lox

    January 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  12. dwt

    This article is generally okay but a bit fishy itself in some points. While cod is a fine fish, it's hardly premium for fish-and-chips (rather call out halibut for that distinction). And farmed and wild shrimp are only similar when speaking of Asian production. American Gulf wild shrimp are exposed to much less environmental toxins than any Thai wild or farmed shrimps, from what I've read.

    January 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
    • Beefburger

      Except for that little thing that happened with BP in the Gulf of Mexico, sure, no worries.

      January 14, 2012 at 7:45 am | Reply
    • justmeopinion

      Cod a premium fish? Not in the Maritimes and parts of New England. Haddock and Sole are superior. Most fish and chip places down here in southern N.E. use pollock (!) or cod in their fish and chips. In the Canadian Maritimes, and most of Maine, haddock reigns, and is a better quality fish. Just look at the prices at your fish market. Cod is always cheaper, at least here in New England. And why didn't they mention Scrod in this article? Scrod isn't a kind of fish, it's whatever the restaurant wants it to be. A young white fish. And you can bet it likely isn't Haddock.
      And had anyone noticed that over the years Haddock as been shrinking in size? Very small filets compared to years ago. Overfishing. And what's with selling the haddock with the skin on? That never used to be either. And they still don't most places in New England, just southern apparently. Another way for stores to make more money.

      January 16, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  13. gaylela

    Do you have to eat everything and as much as you can? Then eat what food eats: plastic.

    January 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • Chae Cho

      Northern Pacific gyre, the plastic dump site you mean? sea gulls and turtles eat plastics but I don't!

      January 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  14. Pat

    Next question: where do you find the best pork?
    Answer: Obama's cabinet

    January 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
    • sparky

      That was intelligent !!!!!

      January 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • calistudent

      try to stay on topic, troll.

      January 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply
    • lewtwo

      GOP convention

      January 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Reply
    • Pat

      haters please at least stop laughing before spewing your foul biggotry

      January 13, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  15. Pat

    ==============> GONE FISHING <==============

    January 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  16. Fish Eater

    By the way chicken outnumbered humans in 2009

    January 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Reply
    • lewtwo

      live ones or fried ones ...
      chickens I mean.

      January 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  17. Fish Eater

    Fresh fish have clear transparent eyes before they are cooked

    January 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  18. Jason Viper

    A point they fail to mention is that wild fish in public waters that have consumption advisories for mercury and PCB can flood the market and be labeled as "farm raised". Millions of pounds are caught annually, taken to a farm for the required amount of time, and can legally be sold as farm raised. We don't know why this hasn't been picked up by the media. Maybe someone will read this and dig further and do something about it. I'd be very weary of buying catfish for this very reason, as I know this is occurring with catfish in Virginia.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  19. lewtwo

    smells a lot like the GOP primary

    January 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Reply
    • DW

      Smells like the Democratic president re election

      January 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  20. Scruff

    Another huge bait and switch (no pun intended) is replacing Walleye with a fish called Zander. Many restaurants have been fined in Minnesota because of this.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  21. Skander

    What is really frustrating is the fact that farm raised fish could be as good as wild caught if the companies raising were willing to put in the required effort. But they are all too eager to make a quick buck and so they use hormones and the above mentioned food pellets that result in bad tasting fish.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  22. sharoom

    Maybe I'll go fishing and have some nice fish stew.

    January 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Reply
    • sharoom

      Italian loaf and olive oil on the sidel.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  23. renu landage

    Eat fish save cow and chicken both.

    January 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • Steve Gastin

      why? fish isn't a living thing.?

      January 13, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  24. Sagebrush Shorty

    Go away!

    January 16, 2012 at 10:15 am | Reply

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